Academic nominative determinism: the year’s best examples

24 December 2012 by Pete Etchells, posted in Uncategorized

Here's a bit of fun for you, to end 2012 with. About a year or so ago, I developed an interest/mild obsession in 'nominative determinism', or the idea that a person's name somehow has some sort of effect on their career choice. Although the concept has been floating around for decades, it was an article in the New Scientist that jump-started the term nominative determinism itself, in 1994:


"We recently came across a new book, Pole Positions - The Polar Regions and the Future of the Planet, by Daniel Snowman. Then, a couple of weeks later, we received a copy of London Under London - A Subterranean Guide, one of the authors of which is Richard Trench. So it was interesting to see Jen Hunt of the University of Manchester stating in the October issue of The Psychologist: "Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname." Hunt's example is an article on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology (vol 49, pp 173-176, 1977) by A. J. Splatt and D. Weedon."


So over the past year, I've been collecting the finest examples of nominative determinism that I could find from the academic literature. Here are some of the ones I liked the most:

  • "Childhood proactive and reactive aggression: Differential risk for substance use?" by Fite et al. Aggression and Violent Behaviour.
  • "High-performance polymer solar cells with a conjugated zwitterion by solution processing or thermal deposition as the electron-collection interlayer" by Sun et al. Journal of Materials Chemistry.
  • "The evolving epidemiology of HIV/AIDS" by Doctor de Cock et al. AIDS.
  • "Heat transfer to foods: ensuring safety and food microstructure" by Fryer et al. Journal of Heat Transfer.
  • "Passive resting state and history of antagonist muscle activity shape active extensions in an insect limb" by Ache et al. Journal of Neurophysiology.
  • "Why we need to be righteous" by Haidt et al. New Scientist.
  • "Does anonymity increase the reporting of mental health symptoms?" by Fear et al. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
  • "A solid base to build on" by Water. Nursing Standard.
  • " The effect of dry cow antibiotic with and without an internal teat sealant on udder health" by Failing et al. Journal of Dairy Research.


And probably my favourite:

  • "Reflections on sixty years of solid state chemistry" by Goodenough. Journal of Inorganic and General Chemistry.


Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. See you in 2013.

3 Responses to “Academic nominative determinism: the year’s best examples”

  1. Jim | Permalink

    Professor Mike Lean at Glasgow developed a more nutritionally balanced and lower fat pizza ;-)

  2. Ed Yong | Permalink

    Michael Meaney works on effect of early stress/trauma

    But surely, the ultimate winner: Andrew Bass works on singing fish.

  3. Adam Jacobs | Permalink

    I was rather amused recently while looking up some of the literature on vacuum devices for treating erectile dysfunction to discover that one of the most highly cited papers was by Wang et al.


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